Facing criticism from the left on conflict of interest and compromise in Jones’ contribution to Trump’s executive order, Jones denies involvement in Trump’s most recent piece of criminal justice reform. Ava DeSantis writes why Jones has distanced himself from the order.

On Sunday, the Daily Beast published an article alleging that Van Jones, the CNN affiliate and criminal justice advocate, worked with the Trump Administration on the Safe Policing for Safe Communities executive order. The author, Lloyd Grove, said a White House source backed his claim that Jones and Jessica Jackson, the director of a prison reform group #cut50, met with staffers to discuss the order. 

The staffer said Jones and Jackson served to help find “the sweet spot” between law enforcement, “the reasonable middle,” and “the reasonable left.” Jones expressed similar praise on CNN’s Inside Politics, saying “the executive order is a good thing, mainly because you saw the support of law enforcement there.”

The executive order lauds the efforts of police officers who “help foster a safe environment where we all can prosper.” The order, however, acknowledges the need for reform, banning chokeholds except when an officer’s life is in danger and establishing a database to record misconduct. 

Despite his support for the order, Jones denied his involvement in its conception on Twitter yesterday. “This @TheDailyBeast article is based on false, sensational charges — apparently designed to get clicks, shares, and likes. I haven’t even visited DC since before the pandemic started – let alone been inside the White House,” Jones said in his post. “I have never been included in any meetings about police reform (not by phone, zoom, nada). I didn’t know what was in the EO until the day it was released,” he added. 

Van Jones: When I meet with folks at The White House, I say so during relevant coverage on-air – as I did all through 2018, when I worked on criminal justice reform

Van Jones bolstered his credibility by referencing his acknowledgment of previous involvement in the Administration’s policies. “When I meet with folks at The White House, I say so during relevant coverage on-air – as I did all through 2018, when I worked on criminal justice reform,” continued Jones. One example of this is Jones’ acknowledgment of his work on the First Step Act.

In a CNN op-ed, in April 2019, Jones wrote about his work on the First Step Act. The advocate said he “[worked] alongside Jared Kushner, whose father had been to prison” on the major piece of criminal justice legislation. For this, he received criticism as well. 

Responding to this criticism, Jones told The Marshall Project “I wasn’t surprised because there are two different schools of thought in the progressive movement, and both have some validity.” The first school, Jones said “says, just from the door, ‘Do not engage with the Trump White House. They are racists and erratic and not trustworthy.’” The second school “looks at the question a little bit more closely.”

Members of this so-called ‘first school,’ criticized Jones’ alleged work on this executive order as well. Rev. Al Sharpton, a freedom fighter and longtime Jones ally, called the order “toothless and meaningless.” Sharpton said “I think [Jones] is well-intentioned, but I think he totally underestimates the kind of guy he’s dealing with.”

It is unclear whether Van Jones was a direct participant in Trump’s executive order, but the larger conflict over liberal cooperation with conservative policymakers, which Jones described, will remain in criminal justice reform well after this controversy loses media attention.

Ava DeSantis

Ava DeSantis is Gen Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. She has a background in political science and history at George Washington University.